Janice L. Reiff: “Urban Web: Cities as Hypertext”

Reiff suggests that hyperlinks may be interpretations and states her fascination with using the web to tell stories and create narratives.

Encyclopedia of Chicago based in story of a metropolitan area, Chicago, emphasizing interconnectedness, synthesis of scholarship, and electronic manifestations of links, structure and malleability of categories.

Pullman is another of her another projects that offers a powerful example of place as a site of conflict and vision; yet her research de-centered that notion. George Pullman and strikers portrayed a fundamentally different place, yet a place separated by only four blocks.  She contrasted her sense of mutable space with Ed  Ayres’ fixidity (in his Thursday night keynote address).  Discusses planned space, lived space, and perceived space, drawing on Lefebvre’s scholarship (I believe Henri, but just not sure).

Plays with scale of LA versus Chicago and notions of particular “schools” – LA’s featuring the prominence of Pacific Ocean and internationalism.  Chicago’s emphasis is on growth out from the center, at least as the model with a static notion of neighborhoods and population groupings.  LA is a network, especially when viewed by freeways.

Theodore Nelson “everything is deeply intertwingled.” Cities as hypertext.  When viewed in digital medium the differences between LA and Chicago dissipate.

Encyclopedia was at once a static text and an electronic medium, a hypertext.

Links: Growing out of belief in interconnectedness, if any entry did not have any connections to other items, it was deemed not significant enough to include.  No individual entries (on people), instead a biographical dictionary that was based on references in other entries.  Index also links individuals throughout the text.  See alsos (found at end of entries, e.g. see also Transportation, Railroads) further function as networks.

Reiff returned to contrasting LA and Chicago schools through two maps of Chicago, one that shows broad development over time, and another, more postmodern, that charts nodes.  Although both are maps of Chicago, the latter evokes LA, thereby suggesting that the digital medium allows one to re-imagine long held beliefs.

Reiff acknowledges the cost, some 2.5 million dollars total for the Encyclopedia, one million of which was just for web-based version.  Raises the question of what returns can justify this expense?  Should the costs give scholars pause as to what projects they pursue?  Is digital history a field of dreams or a potential boondoggle?  Are there less costly solutions or options?  And more importantly, how shall we judge, who should judge, and what are the standards?

She closes with idea that Encyclopedia (and web-based scholarship in general) allows people to create their own narratives, perhaps this is the value of web based scholarship. And in truth, public access is difficult to quantify with discrete accounting.  However, Chicago can command a million dollars, but what about small towns and other smaller scales?  Can the costs of the web and broad based democracy co-exist?  Do the wealthy or prominent get privileged once again in a new version of the “winners” writing history?

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